Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Search for the perfect umbrella

Jesus of grunt.

The difference between religion and philosophy is that religion tends to be a closed system of faith that postulates a cosmology it insists is absolutely true. While there may be traditions within particular religions of theological debate regarding the interpretation of a religion's tenets, these matters, however subtle and finely reasoned they maybe, have limits as to what can be said and done. A religion is a matter of faith, without material evidence, regarding the state of all existence that beyond the limited interpretation of a finite set of core beliefs cannot be questioned.
 For the worth of religion in material terms, I subscribe to the  elegant qualifications William James laid out in Varieties of Religious Experience, crudely paraphrased as being that if a set of religions convictions provides a community with values, ethics and the moral basis for fair  laws that allow the members to usefully and creatively cope with life's circumstances, enables them to cooperate and share in enterprises that are beneficial both themselves and to the whole, are able to empower  the members to be generous, kind and responsible so that a community is strengthened with a generally understood purpose greater than the petty desires of the individual , that is justification enough for a person's belief in invisible forces. This sounds sane and , I think, fairly reasonable. The comedian in me, though, also remembers poet John Ashbery's sentence from his introduction to the collection he edited about avant gard art, "We would all believe in God if we  knew he existed, but would this be much fun?"  

 Organized religion purges those clerics and theologians whose ideas go too far off the reservation and undermine a faith's fundamentals. Philosophy, though related to religion in the sense that it grapples with large concepts and abstract notions has, at its core, a notion that skepticism is a virtue and has a methodological rigor that questions, tests and interrogates propositions, ideas, concepts; philosophy preceded science as an intellectual endeavor and it was from philosophy that early scientists got their discipline, the constant testing of their ideas and theories.

 Religion, I'd say, refines itself through theological sophistry to adapt to whatever historical moment the institutions finds themselves in, that is, they change according to current fashion.It's not a stretch to say that the basis of the practice is to continue to seem relevant in light of  a world that becomes more complex seemingly as research forces the formerly mute , mysterious and unknowable essence of reality to yield yet more of what is behind the curtain; the matter goes beyond merely being fashionable . It has everything to do with power, as those who have the power to explain the universe to populations have the power, ultimately, to keep them ignorant, afraid and vindictive or free them from  mendacious superstition.  Science, on the other hand, changes it's thinking on the basis of verified facts: If new facts don't fit a theory, you change the theory, not ignore the facts. 

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